Flying W Ranch rebuilding after the Waldo Canyon fire: ‘We’ve risen from the ashes’ | Shared content only

Six days a week, Flying W Ranch offers a window into the Old West.

Located on Chuckwagon Road near the foothills of Pikes Peak, the farm prides itself on going back to the frontier days, with cowboys, blacksmiths, cows, goats and bulls. Visitors can practice archery – shooting arrows into huge bales of hay – or, if they’re feeling adventurous, they can try hand ax throwing. After a chuckwagon-style dinner of brisket, sausage, and baked beans, guests receive a tune from a Western (rather than country) band called the Flying Wranglers.

In this rustic, Western-style setting, there are few hints that 10 years ago, the Waldo Canyon Fire reduced the farm to ashes along with burning more than 18,000 acres and destroying nearly 350 homes.

The fire broke out west of Colorado Springs on June 22, 2012, led to evictions the next day and reached the ranch on the 26th—and destroyed nearly 30 buildings on the property as well as many of the original Old West artifacts.

Photo by Susanna Kay, Gazette

“For a while, it didn’t look like we’d ever come back from her,” said owner Leigh Ann Wolfe. “But I had to try.”

It took eight years of hard labor, she said, but the farm is now back, and in some ways it’s better than the old place.

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“One of the silver linings is that you can now see the rocks very clearly. There were huge trees in front of all those rocks. Now, the view is more like a garden of the gods,” said Wolf, who took over the operations after her father, Ross, died in 2019.

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The staff at Flying W Ranch kept their meals served chuckwagon style on the newly reconstructed ranch.

“There is more to do now than there was before the shooting,” Wolf said. “We have axe-shooters, we have cowboys running around, we have American Milking Devons – an endangered species of bull. The dining area is a huge improvement over the old place.”

Wolf prefers not to dwell on the fire and its immediate aftermath. Emotions, even 10 years later, are still very cruel.

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The Flying Wranglers perform for visitors at the farm on Mondays.

But the impact of the fire on the farm and the city was too great to completely ignore. So, in acknowledgment of the event, the farm has put together a short video, showing the charred and smoldering remains of the original farm as a visual reminder of its progress.

Wayne Humphrey, a member of the Wranglers family, still remembers his whereabouts when he heard the farm was in danger.

“[The band]was in a recording studio working on a new CD when I got a call from Terry Wolfe, Lee Anne’s sister, saying that the fire was coming down the hill and Flying W wouldn’t work,” Humphrey said. , the only remaining member of Pre-Waldo.

“Everyone was trying to get out of here, so we couldn’t really go anywhere. So we just stood at the corner of the Centenary and the Garden of the Gods and watched the fire come down the hill.”

He said that when Humphrey and a few employees were allowed back to the farm two days later, the place was a smoking ruin.

“There were still firefighters here, and you could still smell the smoke, but they let us walk into the village, and it was destroyed. There was nothing—just ashes everywhere.”

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Flying W Ranch owner Lee Ann Wolfe addresses the crowd each night to talk about how they rose from the ashes of the Waldo Canyon fire.

Marian Cooking Library (named after Woolf’s mother), a small building tucked under a rock structure, virtually untouched by the fire. A chapel called the chapel on the farm was wiped out, but a large wooden cross was saved. It is black and attenuated, but the cross remains to this day.

“In that area, there was nothing but flat black ash—and that wooden cross,” said Wolf. “There is no doubt in my mind that God has his hands in this place.”

Ranch hand John Hendrix returned to the destroyed farm two days later and found about 45 head of cattle, all of which survived the fire.

He said, “No one is lost.” “We couldn’t believe it.”

Some of the cattle suffered minor burns, but one cow – which turned out to be pregnant – could barely stand for weeks, its udder was burnt, and could not feed its newborn.

Hendrix and his wife, Candy, hand-feed the calf – called Waldo – for four months. Waldo thrived in the care of a loving family, and he grew. And he grew, until finally he was too old to stay at home. They said that when they took him to the Wolf family farm, he raised the scales to 400 pounds.

“We eventually grew to 2,000 pounds,” Wolf said with a laugh.

Waldo passed away two years ago, but he still has an undeniable presence on the farm. According to Hendricks, most of her calves are “Waldo Babies”. The bull is pinned to a wall next to the stage where the Wranglers perform six nights a week. As the son of a survivor of the Waldo Canyon fire, he is a visual testament to the resilience it took to rebuild.

The farm reopened in July 2020 and faced another unexpected challenge.

“We’re finally back on our feet, the coronavirus hit, and just about everything in town shut down,” Wolf said. “It really affected us.”

As the pandemic began to show signs of abating last summer, Wolf said, the crowds grew slowly. Now, the place usually receives hundreds of customers every day.

We rose from the ashes, Humphrey said. “It took a lot of work, but we’re back and the city needs it. Those eight years we’ve been shut down, there’s been a hole in here. That’s a staple in Colorado Springs.”

“Every night people come to us crying, and tell us what this place means to them,” said Wolf.

“This is a place for generations. People bring their kids here, and those kids grow up and bring their kids here. My parents were very serious about this connection. They wanted this place to be a blessing for families. And it is.”

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